GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — If you were lingering around Grand Rapids' west side mid-day Monday, there's a chance you saw it, maybe even had to stop for it, while likely wondering what the heck it was.
It was a remote-controlled robot, deployed from the Alpine Meijer store, in the process of delivering several rotisserie chickens to the Bridge Street Market downtown, launching a cutting-edge way to accomplish more timely store-to-store deliveries.
"When we opened our store, we didn't have rotisserie chickens," said Mitchell Cook, store director of the Bridge Street Market. "This robot is still in the testing phase but it guarantees we have a healthy supply of rotisserie chickens for our customers who want them."
Twice each day (noon and 4 p.m.), the remote-controlled droid is loaded with between 24-40 rotisserie chickens at the Meijer store on Alpine Ave. The robot is then deployed from the store, controlled by a delivery person using an X-Box controller and a laptop computer, beginning what amounts to be an hour-long journey to downtown Grand Rapids.
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"The robot travels around 7 miles per hour," Cook said. "It has a camera on top of it allowing the delivery person to see all angles of where it's heading.
"It's able to stop at stop signs and stop lights, and cross at crosswalks avoiding traffic."
Monday's inaugural delivery saw the Chicken Robot travel south on Alpine Ave. then left on Richmond St. After cutting along a bike path that was parallel to some railroad tracks, the robot wound up on Seward Ave. south for about a mile before rolling into the front door of the Bridge Street Market and dropping off its cargo of chickens.
"I think we're the only store in the area, as far as I know, that is utilizing something like this," Cook said. "Typically, for a person delivering, it takes 30-35 minutes, so if I'm only adding 30 minutes onto that, and I can guarantee that [the rotisserie chickens] will be delivered each day, then that's the route I want to go to ensure that I have product for my customers."
Cook adds that the route between the Alpine Meijer and Bridge Street Market will change occasionally, depending on traffic issues, like road construction, car accidents, etc. He also says that more modifications will need to be done to the robot to make sure it can withstand and operate the cold West Michigan winters.
"We're the pilot for a reason," Cook said. "They chose Michigan because we encounter all of nature's elements here.
"There are ongoing discussions to ensure the robot will be able to scale the snow and ice to be sure it can still get here for any deliveries."
Cook says he embraces being on the cutting-edge of innovation like this.
"If we're successful, then then we roll it out," said Cook. "If not, at least it was a fun try, right?"
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